Updated lighting standards, penalties: City Council discusses new sea turtle ordinance

Samantha Roesler
The first reading of a sea turtle lighting ordinance was brought to the Marco Island City Council concerning lighting for buildings close to beaches necessary to protect the sea turtle nesting habitats.

Marco Island City Council met Feb. 22 and discussed amendments to ordinances that deal with both the city’s 2040 comprehensive plan and protection of the sea turtles. There was also employee recognition of Raul Perez, Marco Island’s chief building official, for being named Building Official of the Year in his chapter.

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City Council heard the first reading of an ordinance amendment to Marco Island’s 2040 comprehensive plan by incorporating a reference to the 10-year water supply facilities work plan and adopting a property rights element. Under a new state statute, when a comprehensive plan is amended, a property rights element now needs to be adopted.

“We had in the past, and recently in the last meeting, discussed some of the things they were doing in Tallahassee that we weren’t necessarily in support of, but this is something I think is very good,” Councilman Greg Folley said. “I’m very pleased to see the state strongly supporting property rights.”

Jeff Poteet, general manager of Marco Island’s water and sewer department, presented briefly to the council the purpose of the 10-year water plan that deals strictly with the provision of portable water to the city, unrelated to water quality. Marco Island has to update this 10-year plan every five years. 

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“The purpose of the work plan is to ensure that our water supply and our ability to serve the community are met now and into the foreseeable future,” Poteet said. “The good news is that for the foreseeable future, both our current water supply and treatment capabilities will meet the treatment capacity.”

The plan involved improving coordination between local land use and regional water supplies, to provide guidelines for community development and must include both traditional and alternative water supplies. Marco Island does not have any traditional water supplies but has four alternative water supplies.

Councilman Rich Blanna stated its important to emphasize enhancing security with the alarm system and cybersecurity.

“I would like to make sure that, coming into this round of budget negotiations, you really take a good hard look at (cybersecurity) and make sure that anything you need to ensure the security of (the water supply) area is included because that’s super important to all of us,” Blanna said.

Council voted 7-0 at the first hearing in favor of amending the 2040 Comprehensive Plan to incorporate these two aspects.

The first reading of a sea turtle lighting ordinance was brought to the council concerning lighting for buildings close to beaches necessary to protect the sea turtle nesting habitats.

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According to the 2021 Collier County Sea Turtle Activity Report, there were 99 nests on Marco Island with 10 disoriented nests. This is the highest disorientation rate of any Collier County beach due to the many high rises on Marco Island shedding light onto the beach.

Last year, there were 46 sea turtle lighting code violations. Exterior lights that affect the beach need to be turned off after 9 p.m. between May 1 and Oct. 31, and windows must be tinted to a 45 percent transmittance value.

“The reason why there’s more violations is because we’ve been doing a better job in enforcement,” Daniel Smith, director of community affairs, said. “When you enforce the beaches, you get more violations.”

Under the new ordinance, existing units or structures along the beach have five years to implement turtle-friendly bulbs on all external sources of artificial light visible from the beach.

The ordinance still requires 45 percent light transmittance value through window tinting, it is voluntary to go down to 15 percent.

One of the biggest updates within this ordinance is the expanding of penalties for lighting violations. Currently, penalties are the same for each offense – a minimum fine of $150 and a maximum fine of $500.

The proposed change will have three levels of penalties based on repeat offenses. The first offense will have a maximum fine of $500, the second offense a maximum of $1,500, and the third offense a maximum of $2,000. Everyone gets one warning per calendar year.

“The turtles were here first, and we should cut them a break because the mortality rate is kind of high on this beach,” Councilman Joe Rola said.

Council approved the first reading of this turtle ordinance 7-0.

Marco Island Chief Building Official Raul Perez was recognized last Tuesday night for being named Building Official of the Year for the Florida Gulf Coast Chapter of Building Officials Association of Florida. The chapter covers six Florida counties.

“We’re a small island but Raul’s department issued 8,000 permits last year around a $3 million dollar budget with 21 employees and they are very well spoken of these days, and we want to congratulate Raul publicly,” Marco Island City Manager Mike McNees said.

The next Marco Island City Council meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m., March 7.